Category Archives: Research

WDYTYA – New data launches

Just got back from the first day of WDYTYA at Olympia and I’m shattered so this is just a quick post to let you know about two new data products launched today.

  • The Federation of Family History Societies has launched Version 3 of their National Burial Index for England and Wales.  This new edition includes the data from the first and second editions plus a further 5 million entries to bring the total to over 18 million records.  9,100 burial locations in 50 counties are indexed.
  • Ancestry has launched the Alien Arrivals and Alien Entry Books for the UK.
    • The Alien Entry Books cover correspondence and other documents from the Home Office and the Aliens Office for 1794-1921 the originals of which are held in Class HO5 at The National Archives.  There are un-indexed, you simply browse through the images.
    • The Alien Arrivals records have been indexed or you can browse them by port of entry.  They cover the periods 1810-1811 and 1826-1869 and are digitised from Classes FO 83/21-22: Lists of aliens arriving at English ports, August 1810-May 1811; HO 2: Certificates of alien arrivals, 1836-1852; HO 3: Returns of alien passengers, July 1836-December 1869 and CUST 102/393-396 Accounts of aliens arriving at London (July-November 1826) and Gravesend (October 1826-August 1837) from The National Archives.  You should be able to find the alien’s name, age, profession and country of origin together with their port and date of arrival, and where they exist, certificate number.

Have fun!


Beyond Google – other sources for free books.

Old books - the genealogist's friends

Old books – the genealogist’s friends

We’re all so used to using Google books to search for digital copies of family history related books that it’s easy to forget there are other sources.
  • Project Gutenberg has over 30,000 free ebooks both fiction and non-fiction, mostly in html or plain text format. Use the advanced search option and put “Scotland” in the Subject box to find the 90 books classified under Scotland.
  • Electric Scotland has over 250 complete books that have been either OCRd or scanned to read online; and a further selection of books which have been converted to pdf so you can download them.
  • The Internet Archive is the grand-daddy of them all with over 1.8 million texts and provides a variety of digital formats for each book. This is where to go if you want a copy of the Old and New Statistical Accounts of Scotland or the Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae (search for Hew Scott – without inverted commas – to find all the volumes).

Just remember that these book sites are US based and although the books may be out of copyright there, laws may vary in other countries.

If you’re looking for journals, try the Internet Library of Early Journals which has 20-year runs of

  • Gentleman’s Magazine (1731-1750)
  • The Annual Register (1758-1778)
  • Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society (1757-1777)
  • Notes and Queries (1849/50 – 1869)
  • The Builder (1843-1852)
  • Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine (1843-1863)

What other libraries of digital books have you come across? Please add them in the comments section below.


Scottish trade directories go online have just announced the addition of the Slater’s Royal National Commercial Directory of Scotland for 1889 to their collection of trade directories.

From their announcement:

Familyrelatives is proud to announce the addition of over a quarter of a million Victorian Scottish Trade Directory records online. continues to add to its collection of Trade directories by releasing Trade and individual records dedicated to Scotland.

Slater’s Royal National Commercial Directory is an impressive record of all aspects of life in Scotland in 1889. Apart from Topographical and Postal Information it contains lists of professionals, landowners, Gentry, farmers, factors, London and Provincial Bankers and a fascinating array of advertisements at the time accompanies the text.

The Slater’s Directories form a unique collection of 35 Scottish Counties with invaluable occupational and commercial information for 1889 at the peak of Victoria ‘s reign. The directories with over a quarter of a million entries contain all the major professions, trades and occupations including taverns and public houses as well as the nobility, gentry and clergy. Even the addresses are identified….

Towns and parishes are detailed for each area and the introduction contains key information including the number of inhabitants (taken from the 1871 census) with a geographical and topographical description and the local history. A description of the main trades, produce, manufacturers and industries of the area or town are also covered.

These directories are part of their subscription service and are not available to pay-per-view users.  The subscription service costs £30 (50 USD) per year and covers all their records; pay-per-view costs £6 (10 USD) per 60 units valid for 90 days or £12 (20 USD) per 150 units also valid for 90 days.

For a comparison of the records covered by the two different payment options go to


Scottish registers of aliens

Although the various registers of aliens held by The National Archives in Kew have been fairly well covered in family history magazines, I’ve never heard of any similar records held in Scottish archives…. until today.

As usual, I was looking for something else, and came across a mention that the Edinburgh City Archives (ECA) catalogue had gone online at the Scottish Archives Network site SCAN. There was also a link to their website and it was when exploring this that I came across a mention of a register of aliens in Edinburgh dating back to 1794.

It appears that the register is in 2 volumes:

  • The first is declarations given by foreigners about their place of birth or country they came from, their occupation, the length of time they have been in the country and how long they intend to stay in Edinburgh. Most of these declarations date from 1794. (ECA Ref: SL115/1/1)
  • The second consists of forms asking a series of questions about the alien’s name, origins, status, occupation and age. They also include the port of arrival and their current address. These forms date from 1798-1825. (ECA Ref: SL115/2/1)

Best of all – there’s an index which you can download in PDF format from

However, it’s not an alphabetical index. Bear in mind I haven’t actually seen the registers, but from the format of the index I’m assuming that the names are in the same order as they appear in the register. There are almost 70 names in the first register and about 130 names in the second.

I had a further dig in the SCAN and NAS online catalogues…

and it appears that there are some further registers of aliens scattered around archives across Scotland:

(I’m not sure if these 2 are the same register catalogued twice)

I didn’t come across anything described as a register of aliens in the NAS catalogue, but there are some items that might be interesting:

  • Deaths of Enemy Aliens in Internment Camps; Transmission of Special Certificates of Death GRO5/1208 (covering 1916-1917) and GRO5/1209 (covering 1918-1944)
  • Edinburgh (Saughton) Prison registers Male Aliens 1939-1943; Female Aliens 1939-1941 (class HH21/71/44)
  • and a series of papers in class HH31 which include statistical returns and case papers on enemy aliens in WWI

Who knows what else is out there in archives which don’t have their catalogues online?

And just to top things off, Polish Residents in Scotland: A Statistical Sourcebook based on the Census of Scotland, 1861-2001 Edited by Jim Lipka is online at


It’s all his fault

I got interested in family history because of this man.

Robert Dunlop
Robert Dunlop

His name is Robert Dunlop, he was born in Ayrshire in 1848, the oldest of seven children born to a colliery engineman and his wife, and he was my great-grandfather on my father’s side of the family.

I never met him (he died in 1921 – long before I was born!) but I’d always been aware of him because a portrait of him was propped against a wall in my parents’ bedroom and he was the only member of the family I’d ever seen who shared my red hair.

In 1988 my mum received a letter from someone who was researching for a PhD and had come across his papers in the National Museum of Scotland. She had written an article about Robert and thought that his family might be interested in reading it before it was published. My father had died two years before this and we realised that we knew very little about that side of the family, so that letter was the trigger that set me off.

Apparently Robert’s mother didn’t want him to follow family tradition and go down the mines so, when he was 14 she had him apprenticed as an iron moulder in Kilmarnock. Five years later in 1867, the iron master had the existing apprentices locked out and took on some new ones. A disgruntled Robert persuaded the foundry clerk to show him his indentures and promptly burnt them. He must have run away then to the big city, because a couple of months later when his new foreman in Glasgow told him that “a lame man with a tall had and a policeman” were waiting to see him, Robert jumped over the wall and fled.

Ann Hunter
Ann Hunter

He moved to Airdire and on 1 March 1870 he married my great-grandmother, Ann Hunter.

Robert seems to have settled down then as he took up photography and fossil collecting, started going to chemistry evening classes and even won the Queen’s Prize for Scotland, later teaching evening classes himself. By 1884 Robert had been appointed manager of the Stanrigg Oil Works in Airdrie.

Between 1872 and 1882 Robert and Ann had had nine children, including a set of twins, unfortunately only three of these children survived to adulthood.

In 1899, Robert was employed by the Pumpherston Oil Company – a forerunner of BP – to set up a new oil shale plant in New Zealand. Some time round about then, this family photo was taken.

The Dunlop family about 1899
The Dunlop family about 1899 Robert and Ann (seated centre-left), daughter Elizabeth (left), sons David and Walter (right), Walter's wife Janet and their three children - Robert, Agnes and Annie. The youngest child in this photo - Annie - was born on 31 January 1898.

Robert was to set up this oil shale plant in Orepuki, in New Zealand’s Southland and on 8 February 1899 the family left London aboard the SS Kaikoura for the 90-day trip to New Zealand.

From local accounts, the oil shale work seems to have had a huge impact on the area. Robert obviously had faith in the new works as he bought 260 shares in the New Zealand Oil & Coal company which had been set up to finance the enterprise.

However the oil works was not a commercial success; and in 1902 it closed suddenly with very little notice. The official reason given for the closure was the government’s removal of the import duty on kerosene – locals blamed it on a conspiracy by the American oil companies.

Robert and his family returned to Scotland in 1903.

In 1911, when he was 63, Robert was appointed caretaker of the Pittencrief House Museum in Dunfermline. He died on 21 April 1921 and his will shows that he had kept his shares in the New Zealand Oil & Coal Company until his death.

Robert Dunlop after his return to Scotland
Robert Dunlop after his return to Scotland

This is the last photo I have of Robert and we don’t know when it was taken. If anyone knows anything about old scooters – I’d be grateful if you could help.


Historic Irish maps go online

One of the hardest things to do when we find an ancestor in an unfamiliar state, county or country is to get an idea of how the physical locations relate to each other – or it is for me, but then I could get lost in my own back garden!

Online and paper-based modern maps can help, but we really need maps of the area in our ancestors’ time.

Ordnance Survey Ireland (the national mapping agency for the Republic of Ireland) has historic maps for both Northern Ireland and the Republic online.  The series available are

  • 6 inch mapping series (1:10,560) colour 1837-1842
  • 6 inch mapping series (1:10,560) greyscale 1837-1842
  • 25 inch mapping series (1:2,500) greyscale 1888-1913

In addition there’s also a pdf version of Samuel Lewis’ 1837 Topographical Directory of Ireland to download.

Check it out at

(with thanks to John D Reid over at


We will remember them: William McKenzie Combe

Coxyde Military Cemetery, Belgium
Coxyde Military Cemetery, Belgium

William McKenzie Combe, son of Angus McDonald Miller Combe and Mary Ann McKenzie; husband to Isabella Rankine and father of Mary McKenzie Combe.

Born on 12 March 1895 at 11 St John Street, Edinburgh.

Enlisted on 19 July 1915 in Edinburgh  Private 251006, 5/6th Battalion Royal Scots (Lothian Regiment).

First entered active service on 21 September 1915 in the Balkans. Transferred to France and Flanders on 15 March 1916.

Wounded on 12 July 1917, France & Flanders.

Died of wounds on 14 July 1917, aged 22.

Buried in Coxyde Military Cemetery, Belgium.  Awarded 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal.

Summary of WWI records available online

Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal
Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal

Since Remembrance Sunday is tomorrow, now seems a good time to pull together a summary of the World War One records that are available online.

Medal Roll Index Cards

These were generated by the Army and list a man’s entitlement to campaign medals. There are over 5 million cards and they are the nearest approximation to a nominal roll of those who served in the army in WWI. Generally everyone who served overseas was entitled to a campaign medal. The rolls include RAF personnel who, before 1918, were members of the Royal Flying Corps. Royal Navy and Royal Naval Air Service personnel are not included.

Available online from (pay-per-view) and from (subscription or pay-per-view).

Descriptions of the various formats & abbreviations used at

A small proportion of cards have additional information on the back. This can only be viewed at

Service Records


  • About 60% of the service records of those soldiers (not officers) who served in the army during WWI were destroyed by bombing during WWII. The remaining records have been digitised and are available at
  • Pension records for soldiers who claimed a disability pension for service in WWI are also available at They are unlikely to include records for soldiers who had no dependants or who re-enlisted for service in WWII.
  • Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps
  • Service records for more than 7,000 women who joined the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (1917-1918), later Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps (1918-1920) are available at


  • Royal Marines Service Records
    Service records of those who joined the Royal Marines, 1842 -1936.
  • Registers of Seamen’s Services
    Service registers of more than 600,000 seamen in the Royal Navy, 1853 -1923.
  • Royal Naval Division service records
    Service records of more than 50,000 officers and men who joined the RND, 1914 -1919.
  • Royal Naval Officers’ Service Records
    Service records of officers who joined the Royal Navy, 1756 -1917.
  • Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve Service Records from WW1
    Service records of those who served in the RNVR during the First World War.
  • Women’s Royal Naval Service
    Service records of more than 7,000 women who joined the WRNS (1917-1919).

These are all available from


  • Royal Air Force Officers’ Service Records
    Service records of officers who served in the RAF during the First World War.
  • Women’s Royal Air Force
    Service records of women who joined the WRAF, 1914-1919.

These are all available from


Other records

  • Selected First World War and Army of Occupation War Diaries
    Selected War Diaries of British and colonial units serving in theatres of operations between 1914- 22.
  • Prisoner of War interviews and reports, First World War
    Interviews and reports of over 3000 individuals from the papers of the Committee on the Treatment of British Prisoners of War.
  • The Victoria Cross Registers
    The Victoria Cross was instituted by Royal Warrant on 29 January 1856 for award to members of the Royal Navy and the Army who ‘shall have performed some signal act of valour…’
  • Aliens Registration Cards
    Aliens registration cards of those living in the London area from 1914.

These are all available from

Gallantry awards and officers’ promotions

The award of a gallantry award, an honour and the promotion of military officers was gazetted, or listed, in the London Gazette. It’s also possible to trace an officer’s career in the armed forces through promotions listings. Once you’ve found the relevant service number it’s easier to search using that rather than the name of the officer. Available from (free).

I’ve tried to cover all the major sources for the British armed forces which give details of large numbers of men rather than individuals, but I’m sure to have missed some. If you know of other sources, do add them in the comments.


Census street indexes for England and Wales

Anyone who used to search the census returns for England and Wales at the old Family Records Centre in London before its closure in 2008 would have been used to the large binders of street indexes to the 1841-1891 census returns which were such a valuable finding aid.

The old Family Records Centre in Myddelton Street
The old Family Records Centre in Myddelton Street

Although we’re now all familiar with the various digitised versions of the census returns available online, it can still be almost impossible to find the people we’re looking for in the place we’re expecting to find them.

In the “good old days”, one possible solution was to check the census street index to find the folios covering a family’s last known address and then use that information to scroll through the relevant microfilmed census pages in the hope that the family had been mis-indexed or omitted from the index.

Until now, the only way to replicate this online was if you already knew the folio numbers concerned as only some of the online census providers allow address searches.

You can now search these census street indexes online. On 2 November, the Historical Streets Project from the Your Archives strand of The National Archives’ website added the street indexes for the 1841, 1851 and 1871 censuses.

There are limitations to these indexes:

only the larger towns are covered

the indexes are organised by Registration District – which doesn’t always equate to the parish or county where we would normally expect to find the street.

Go to to read more and try it out for yourself.